Vinegars: the How and the When
Vinegar is fascinating. It has the ability to raise the flavour profile and chemical properties of a dish like nothing else. It is also a great friend of Olive Oil, so we wanted to explore it a bit to figure out how different styles are made and which dressings work well with what.
Vinegar production is an age-old process that was quite lucrative already by the Renaissance. It is made through the fermentation of ethanol and pretty much any grain or fruit based alcohol can be used. The acetic acid bacteria is used to ferment the ethanol in to a series of by-products particularly acetic acid, which is what gives vinegar its bite. It also contains other substances however including vitamins and minerals.
Unlike the wine or beer making process, which occurs in the absence of oxygen (or at least with controlled oxygen presence), the process of making vinegar relies on its presence because of a bacterial culture (the mother) that lives on oxygen bubbles. Some vinegars are made with the natural process, where acetobacter is allowed to propagate over time, others are induced by the introduction of acetozym nutrients in to the vessel of alcohol. It won’t surprise you to know that we would recommend you seek out vinegar made as naturally and carefully as possible.
Wine and Sherry Vinegar
The submerged fermentation method is most typically used for the production of wine vinegars. The wine is put in stainless steel tanks and oxygen is pumped through the liquid. Acetobacters either grow naturally or are helped along with the introduction of acetozym nutrients and the temperature is kept between 26-38°C. It only takes a matter of hours for the alcohol to be converted in to vinegar. You may find that vinegars made with the submerged fermentation method can throw a sediment, it’s biodegradable and not harmful.
A red wine vinegar dressing is the Italian staple on green salads (roughly 1 part vinegar to 2 parts evoo). White wine vinegar is better suited to thicker dressings such as French style with the inclusion of mustard. We always use white wine vinegar on potato salad. Sherry vinegar is something we use more often to finish a dish, particularly one with chorizo or chickpeas.
Balsamic vinegar is made from the juice of the Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes, blended and boiled, then poured in to barrels made of oak, chestnut, cherry, mulberry and ash. It then ferments, ages and condenses for a minimum five years. At the beginning of each year, it is blended with younger vinegars and transferred to smaller barrels. The resulting vinegar has absorbed aroma from the oak and colour from the chestnut.
You have to be careful when to select Balsamic vinegar – its sweetness can mask the flavour of a delicate lettuce and therefore it’s better suited to more robust ingredients such as avocado where it works brilliantly. It also works well with earthy flavours such as lentil or spelt salad, salads with walnuts or seeds or with a salad containing pancetta.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Typically, apple cider vinegar is made with the Orleans Method. Here wooden barrels have holes drilled in them (to allow greater oxygen transfer), the barrel is filled to the level of the holes and the mother is introduced. This then sits for several months at room temperature. The alcohol gradually converts to vinegar.
We use Apple Cider Vinegar very frequently – it has a fabulous delicate character, brilliant for marinades, dressings and sauces and works well with mixed salads especially those including earthy ingredients such as kale or fruits such as dried apricots or figs. It is also extremely good for you, so we consider this a great partner for our Olive Oils.
If you feel like giving it a go to make some home brew apple cider vinegar take a look here